Taiwanese LGBT campaigners are hopeful that the country may soon embrace same-sex marriage, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to do so. The optimism comes in the wake of the suicide of Jacques Picoux, a gay professor at the National Taiwan University. Picoux’s story is heartbreakingly familiar. He and his long-term partner, Tseng Ching-chao, were living together but following his death, Picoux was not given the same legal recognition in relation to inheritance and shared assets. The story has galvanized public opinion, and activists now believe that marriage equality may soon come to the country.
When it comes to LGBT rights, Taiwan is one of the most liberal countries in Asia, and an example of this tolerance is country’s annual pride parade. Taiwan Pride was held yesterday and attracted groups from across the country to the parade’s epicentre in Taipei. Tens of thousands of people attended, including many foreign visitors from less liberal Asian countries, but in the aftermath of Picoux’s suicide the event had a distinctly political feeling to it. Hundreds of signs and placards were explicitly calling on the Taiwanese government to legalize same-sex marriage.
The reason activists are optimistic that marriage equality may soon be achieved is because of the results of the 2016 Taiwanese general election. In January 2016 the Kuomintang party (KMT) lost its majority in parliament for the first time ever, and the Democratic Progressive party (DPP) became the ruling party.
In many countries in Asia left-of-centre retain some socially conservative policies, but Taiwan seems to be the exception to this rule. The leader of the DPP, and current President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, has said that she personally supports same-sex marriage. But this doesn’t mean much unless the DPP act. Thankfully they have. On Monday the DPP announced legislation to amend the country’s family law to allow same-sex couples to marry. Not only that but an opinion poll for the Taiwanese Ministry of Justice- reported by Pink News- found that 71% of people in Taiwan support same-sex marriage.
The legislative arithmetic also favours equality campaigners. The DPP currently have 68 seats out of 113 in the Taiwanese parliament which means that the legislation would only fail to pass if all opposition parties and 12 DPP MPs voted against the proposal. Given that an overwhelming majority of people in Taiwan support same-sex marriage it would be politically expedient for political parties to support the legislation as failure to do so would alienate a substantial part of the electorate.
Taiwan’s LGBT progress may be slower than many other countries, but the fact that the country could become the first in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage is commendable. Not only am I optimistic about Taiwan, but it starts a conversation in a part of the world that has so far not embraced LGBT rights. Taiwan’s decision would make headlines in countries like South Korea, Japan, and China, all of which have populations that are becoming increasingly open to LGBT rights.
In the last few years Western countries have been hit with a wave of activism to promote marriage equality, and the results have been successful in many cases. If Taiwan can start an Asian wave, which Australia may well add to, then thousands of same-sex couples will be able to get married around the world. I believe that Taiwan will become the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage, but the ripple effect is what I will be most interested in observing.